Media Messages Affecting Teens

Teens are bombarded by media messages daily. The message sources include billboards, newspapers, television, radio, magazines, books, the Internet and smartphones. Many of the messages are designed to sell something and to keep the viewer's attention. Consequently, they are bright, loud and attention-getting. Teens are especially vulnerable to media messages because they have begun selecting their own material, yet they often do not have the skills needed to correctly evaluate the messages on their own.

Sex Sells

Repeatedly, advertisers have shown that pictures of lovely ladies can be used to sell completely unrelated products. However, Tom Reichert, professor and researcher at the University of Georgia, notes that whereas a glimpse of an ankle might have been effective several generations ago, today a greater degree of nudity is needed to get the same result. Therefore, the pictures needed to get the desired reaction have become increasingly revealing. Television shows also feature more skin and racy content, aside from the advertising. Daniel J. DeNoon, senior medical writer for Web MD, makes a direct link between the number of hours of television watched and teens having sex at an early age in an article entitled "Too-Soon Sex, Obesity, Violence, Isolation Linked to Screen Time, Media Content." DeNoon places the blame for early sex on watching more than two hours of television daily, and lack of parental input concerning the content 1.

Visual Violence

Violence on television has the greatest impact on children's behavior when the child watches violent tv shows alone, according to David Bickham of Harvard's Center for Media and Child Health. But, when children watch television together they are more likely to do other things together. It seems that lonely, isolated children who watch violent programs tend to become more violent, more angry and more isolated. It is possible that their subsequent behavior tends to drive people farther away from them, creating a spiral of self-reinforcing behavior that can carry over into the teen years. A 2010 study conducted by Dr Grafman, senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, indicates that extensive viewing of violence and playing violent video games desensitizes teens, boys in particular, to violent behavior.

Weight Gain

Julie Taylor, of WebMD, shows how food commercials can encourage teens to pack on the pounds in an article titled, "Are Fast-Food Advertisers Playing You?" Taylor cited the 2009 Yale Study, "Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior" by Harris, Bragh and Brownell. The researchers concluded that television watching increased the amount of snacking by children and adults by about 45 percent. A Swiss study, based on an anecdotal study, suggests that sitting in front of a TV, snacking, at age 16 can lead to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions which can include elevated blood pressure, diabetes, increased weight and circulatory problems. At the same time, the portrayal of acceptable body weights and body types in the media can lead teens, especially girls, to foster unhealthy attitudes toward their bodies and how they should look.

Media and Influences

Media can be a positive influence, too. Susan M. Novick, of "Parenting Teens" notes that while the number of hours that a teen spends interacting with media can be a concern, the real answer is to educate your teen and yourself to evaluate the messages being delivered. DeNoon recommends that parents pay attention to what their children are watching, and to limit the number of hours spent viewing television. Taylor recommends using commercial breaks to read a book or get in some exercise instead of grabbing a snack. When your teen learns to critically analyze the messages the media she is consuming is giving her, she can become better informed, better equipped to separate truth from fiction and better able to counteract the negative aspects of the messages put forth by the media.